Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Culture Shock: TIME

Punctuality can mean different things to different people, even in our own country. Heck, even within our own families. So imagine the culture shock of being an uber-punctual person and entering the traditionally slower clock of Latin culture! Or imagine the opportunities lost in the reverse situation.

In a class I took last quarter on negotiations, we role played in every class. The last one we had to do was an intercultural negotation between U.S. businesspeople and those from a make-believe country called Amazonia. I was on the U.S. side, and when we sat down to get started, we waited. And we waited. I thought, "Wow, our classmates sure don't care about this negotiation!" "They sure aren't respecting our time," our teammates said. And it got worse from there.

Well, what we didn't know upfront about this particular negotiation is that they were coached to, among other things, 1) not obey the clock, 2) not negotiate with women, and 3) talk about families, cars--anything but the business at hand. So you can imagine how this negotiation process went! Pretty quickly I saw what was happening--and applauded the Amazonia team's fabulous acting. But many U.S. teams never quite figured it out.

Last weekend I went to a quinceañera, celebrating the 15th birthday of the daughter of a friend of mine, from Mexico. It was to start at 5, so I arrived at 5:15. The next guest arrived around 6. Most were there by 7, but they continued to trickle in. That's the way it is.

But it's not that way in every situation and for every Latino.

I read an article in last Sunday's Seattle Times. "Mexicans know when they should be punctual and which things start punctually," for me was a helpful quote from the article. This one's worth a read.


  1. Love it and so true! I try to always be punctual so I don't fall into the stereotype.

  2. I was born with an internal clock that somehow knows I'm going to be late an hour before I am. Then it makes me worry, which then raises my blood pressure. I can definitely see advantages to having a rubbery clock.

    This article made me think back two years, when our family visited Cozumel. It just occurred to me that all the activities scheduled for passengers on our cruise ship would have gone directly against the Mexican concept of time. Tour operators, drivers, recreational properties on the island - they all would have been catering to the on-time ideals of the tourists. That in itself makes me appreciate that trip even more.

    Thanks for a great read, and a the link to the Times article.

  3. Thanks, Votemeli and Kurt Clark, for your comments.

    As for that cruise, can you just imagine if the cruise ship operated on a much looser schedule and (say you were on time!) you were wasting your time waiting around for things to get started? Either way, it's a culture clash. This happens in my family, and often.

    But it sounds like you, like me, have that special ability to be a little less rigid about where the hands of the clock are. It's just a technicality...


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